Blog 22: April Showers

You have seen the battle that I had to get Bill to change his clothes and that it was a “shirt off, clean shirt on in a hurry” business, rather than a “shirt off, shower, clean shirt on” affair.  And you’ll understand that I wrote it that way because that was the truth of the matter. Bill just wasn’t having showers any more.

It all started when we were in Canada in May 2009.  All the showers in the hotels over there were different from those that we had in our home here in Australia.  They were different and their workings were quite complicated.  You could accidentally wash the whole of the hotel bathroom while you were trying to work out how to use them.  Bill decided halfway through that holiday that he would not battle with those showers any more. He got by, by washing himself in a little bit of water in the bath.

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Bill, at Lake Louise, Canada, in May 2009.

Canada is a cold country, even in late spring and it didn’t matter at all that Bill didn’t shower for those couple of weeks.  It became more of a worry, however, when he continued his shower embargo on our arrival home to Brisbane.  He continued to wash but flatly refused to shower.  I have made a note that Bill did not shower from August 2009 to January 2010.

Then, in that January, Bill mowed the lawn and his legs got really dirty.

“Do you want to have a shower?” I asked.

“How will I do that?” he answered.

“I’ll help you,” I replied.

Then I realised, as I went through the procedure of helping him, that he could no longer work the taps, that he couldn’t tell which was hot and which was cold, that the symbols “C” and “H” had no meaning for him any more and that, once the water was running, he had no idea how to adjust the taps to keep the temperature and the pressure constant.  And, when I put the cake of soap in his hand and he lathered it, tentatively, on his body, he asked inquiringly:

“Is this how you do it?”

That first shower in January 2010, after five months of no showering, was a sight to see.  The dead skin cells just rolled off his legs.  Little rolls of skin, and sometimes bigger rolls, covered the floor of the shower recess and, as he was drying himself, the floor of the bathroom.  When he had finished, I had to get the vacuum cleaner out to clean up the mess.

  1. Louise

    Shower spaces! Had a cousin fall and seriously hurt herself. Got my husband to change out the hoses and taps in our shower and then got the plumber in to do them all again correctly. Of course there is all the cleaning, especially after all that time without a full shower. Must have been hard not knowing that wonderful feeling of having a nice long shower after a long day.

    April 4th, 2013 // Reply
    • Fay

      And you would think, Louise, that after that January shower, Bill would have willingly showered every day from then on. But it wasn’t a matter of Bill re-acquainting himself with the joys of showering any more. The fact was that the part of Bill’s brain that governed personal cleanliness was fast shutting down and getting him to have a shower, from that January on, proved to be such a major battle that we …. the nurses and me ….. often let it pass, being over-the-moon happy if we managed to get Bill to shower once a week.

      April 8th, 2013 // Reply
  2. Harold and Nola

    This is not the Bill we know, people, already we see him slipping away from us. We suppose there were times when he would come in from work a mess and all dirtied up, but that was work, that was living, and would’ve been very soon put to rights with the shower. Now things are different and it has to be supposed was to become more horrifying as time went on. Still, we have to insist, people, this was not ‘our Bill’ in this state . . . Nola and Harold.

    April 7th, 2013 // Reply
    • Fay

      You are so right, Nola. Bill, in his right mind, was always the first to shower. He had started his working life as a tradesman and, in those days, having come home from work covered in dust and grime, would have often had his shower even before dinner. And all our married life, until dementia, I never knew Bill to go to bed without having a shower. But, just as dementia stripped Bill of all the learning that he had acquired through years of education, so it stripped him of all the habits of personal hygiene that he had learnt from a dutiful mother. How to shower and accepted reasons for showering just disappeared from his mind, never to re-appear. So, when we tried to get him into the shower, he did not fight against it because he didn’t want to do it, he fought because he saw no rhyme nor reason for it.

      April 8th, 2013 // Reply
  3. Matt

    In his confused state, not understanding how to control the water in the shower, there was no question for him – he simply didn’t need to shower and he wasn’t going to. We found it difficult to comprehend – why this man, who for the whole of his life to this point had been so dignified and competent now refused to shower, but I suppose for him, now in his state of decline, the way he controlled the water in the shower was to leave it turned off.
    What a journey.

    April 11th, 2013 // Reply
    • Fay

      At that stage, Matt, the beginning of 2010, it really was a matter of Bill thinking: “I don’t know how to do it any more so I just won’t do it.” But as time went on and he could no longer think ahead or understand the consequences of actions, keeping Bill clean became more and more difficult.

      April 24th, 2013 // Reply

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